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Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A Restaurant on the way to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A Restaurant on the Way to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A Restaurant on the way to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Another Look of the Restaurant on the Way to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Walk Past the Turkish Delight Store, Istanbul, Turkey

Walk Past the Turkish Delight and Bakery, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, has been called the greatest house of worship in the Christian and Muslim worlds: Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of Constantinople, a Greek Orthodox basilica, was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in A.D. 537 over the remains of two churches. More than 5,000 architects, stonemasons, bricklayers, plasterers, sculptors, painters and mosaic artists worked around the clock for 5 years to complete the church. People came from all over the world to watch the great dome slowly rise above the landscape and for a 1000 years it was the greatest dome in the world until the Renaissance when Brunelleschi built the dome over the Duomo, in Florence, Italy.  In 1204 it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral. It remained the largest cathedral for nearly 1000 years until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.  In  1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered the main church be converted into a mosque. The relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, His mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were removed or plastered over. Islamic features and the minarets were added. In 1935, the first Turkish president, and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum.  The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed, revealing the beautiful mosaics still intact.  The plaster had actually preserved them.

Today, Hagia Sophia is a beautiful museum, featuring the best of Christian and  Muslim architecture.

After going through tight security and inspection let’s look at this wonder of the world!

The Fountain at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Fountain at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Ottomans added this fountain in the 18th century, when Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque. It was used for ablution, ritual cleansing before prayer, as part of Islamic traditions.

A View of the Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A View of the Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A View in the Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A View in the Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A View in the Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

A View in the Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Courtyard of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Rooftop Views from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Rooftop Views from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Decorative Pieces  Taken from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Decorative Pieces Taken from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Decorative Pieces  Taken from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Decorative Pieces Taken from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Original Baptismal Pool, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Original Baptismal Pool, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Unearthed in 2010, the immense baptismal pool was hewn out of a massive piece of marble. More than ten feet wide and four feet deep, the pool was used for communal baptisms common in early Christianity.

Intricate Gold Lace Partitions, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Intricate Gold Lace Partitions, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Marble Tiles, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Marble Tiles and Calligraphy, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Huge Chandeliers, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Huge Chandeliers, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The green marble columns carry the upper galleries and provide support to the domes, easing the burden of the buttresses and exterior walls.

Inside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Inside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Many of the marble columns were brought here from other, even more ancient monuments and temples.

The Nave of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Nave of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Nave of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Nave of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

To get a perspective of the size of the Nave, Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral would fit within Hagia Sophia’s great dome.

One of Many Icons in Hagia, Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

One of Many Icons in Hagia, Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Icon in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Icon in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Icon over Doorway, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Icon over Doorway, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The religious use of icons, depictions of human figures in mosaics, frescoes and other art forms, were very controversial throughout Byzantine history. Church and political leaders clashed over icons. The public liked the figures, and since most people at the time could not read, these pictures told the stories of the church teachings and emperors used them to bolster their claim to divine power, often depicting themselves as holy figures.

One of Two Winged Seraphims, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

One of Two Winged Seraphims, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

s in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Medallions and Mimber in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The mimber is the pulpit in a mosque used by the imam to deliver a sermon on Fridays or to talk to the public on special occasions. The imam stands halfway up the stairs as a sign of respect, reserving the uppermost step for the Prophet Muhammad.

The 24-foot-wide, leather wrapped, wooden medallions, were added in the 19th century and decorated by master calligraphers. In a church you see paintings of Biblical figures and saints, however in a mosque, which allows no depictions of people, you see ornately written names of Allah and Muhammad.

The Exit of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Exit of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

 

Stone Pieces in the Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Stone Pieces in the Courtyard, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Conwy Sites and Mawr!

Conwy Castle, Wales

Conwy Castle, Wales

 

Conwy, enclosed within a ring of 13th-century walls and protected by a castle, is one of the worlds finest medieval towns. Exploring the streets, castle walls and the remains of the castle has taken us back in time. There are also three houses that we want to explore in Conwy. Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan house built in 1576 by the Wynn family, has been extensively refurbished to it’s original 16th-century appearance. The tall lime walls reflect the status of the builder, Robert Wynn, a well traveled courtier and trader who rose to grandeur in the Welsh gentry.

Plas Mawr, Conwy, Wales

Plas Mawr, Conwy, Wales

Plas Mawr stands as a symbol to a prosperous age and of a man of great style and taste. The house is noted for the quality and quantity of ornamental plasterwork, revealing the initial “R.W.” in the crests and coat of arms. The furnishings, many original to the house, are based on an inventory of contents in 1665. The tour describes the restoration and the life of Tutor gentry and the work of the servants who helped maintain such a lavish lifestyle. There is also a garden on the rooftops!

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 Plas Mawr is also noted to be haunted.  Robert Wynn was married twice.  Both his wives were named Dorothy and both had pre-mature deaths. His first wife died from an illness at a very early age and his second wife died when she fell down a flight of stairs in the house while she was pregnant and carrying one of the other seven children. The doctor was summoned, but he failed to save her or the child. When Robert Wynn returned home he found both his wife and child dead in the bed and the doctor’s whereabouts unknown. The doctor is rumored to have suffocated in the chimney while trying to escape from Robert because he could not save Dorothy. Sometimes the ghosts of the two women are seen in the house and the house has been studied for supernatural activity. Spooky!

The Fatal Steps, Plas Mawr, Conwy, Wales

The Fatal Steps, Plas Mawr, Conwy, Wales

The second house is named in the Guinness Book of Records as the Smallest House in Great Britain, with dimensions of approximately 9 feet 10 inches by 6 feet. It was in continuous occupation from the 16th-century (even inhabited by a family at one point!) until 1900 when the owner, a 6 foot tall fisherman, Robert Jones, was forced to move out of the house on grounds of hygiene. The rooms were too small for him to stand up fully. The house, located on the quay, is still owned by his descendants today and you can tour it for a small charge. Unbelievable!

The Smallest House in Great Britain

The Smallest House in Great Britain

Robert Jones, Fisherman

Robert Jones, Fisherman

Lastly, St Mary’s Church and All Saints Church, were founded in the 12th-century as the abbey church of the Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy. This was the burial place of many of the Princes of Gwynedd. In 1283 King Edward I, after his conquest of Wales, chose to build Conwy Castle and the fortified town on the abbey site, moving the abbey to Maenan. Today there remains many interesting slate gravestones in the churchyard and one particular containing seven brothers and sisters marked,”We are Seven.” It is said to have inspired the poet, William Wordsworth, to write his poem of the same name. The children were stricken, most likely, by an illness and died within days of each other. Conwy is such an interesting and beautiful town. For more pictures and stories see my post on “Exposure.” Enjoy! 

 

Meet the Family: Kinlet to Acton Burnell, UK

 

The Sheep and Lambs at Kinlet Hall, Kinlet, Shropshire

The Sheep and Lambs at Kinlet Hall, Kinlet, Shropshire

I have been doing genealogy for a number of years, going back farther and farther in my family history, now over 35,000 people strong! One of the reasons for the trip to the UK was to document and photograph the villages my family (my mother’s side) came from and to visit the last village that Richard Henry Lee, my 22nd GGrandfather, lived in before leaving England for the United States in the early 1600’s. What an experience! The first stop after leaving the Cotswolds was Kinlet, Kin (royal) lett (district) Shropshire, population around 600. I was looking for St John’s Church where my relatives, the Blounts, are buried. First driving to Cleobury Mortimer, the roads dwindled to sheep pastures and upon reaching Kinlet, the main attraction seemed to be The Eagle and the Serpent Pub, in the middle of nowhere! They have THE BEST burgers and fries!!!!!

The Eagle and Serpent Pub, Kinlet, Shropshire, UK

The Eagle and Serpent Pub, Kinlet, Shropshire, UK

Driving up and down the road several times, to my dismay, and seeing no sign of a church, we did find a large old school now being used as a nursing home. SB, being the gentleman he always is, went in the nursing home to inquire about St John’s Church. The young attendants had no clue to it’s where abouts, but a tiny frail woman in a wheel chair said, “take the path in front of the pub up the hill!” 

It was a path with an iron gate, which we opened and went in and drove on up the hill through the rolling hills dotted with sheep and lambs. When the path ended, there was the church and next door a huge, huge, huge manor house! The Manor House or Kinlet Hall is now the Moffats School, a private school, but we went in and talked to the head mistress, who through marriage was also related to the Blount family.  She told us to take as many pictures outside the building as we wanted, as not to disturb the classes, and to go on through the gate to the church. This is what I found in Kinlet and St John’s Church.

It’s nice to know your relatives were so well thought of and very important to the community!

Outer Shell of Acton Burnell Castle, Acton Burnell, England

Outer Shell of Acton Burnell Castle, Acton Burnell, England

Next, traveling to Acton Burnell, we discovered the remnants of Acton Burnell Castle and a path through a really spooky grove of trees that we had to go through in order to reach the castle. I couldn’t help but think something awful had gone on here! If only these trees could talk!

The Spooky Path Through the Woods at Acton Burnell Castle, Acton Burnell, England

The Spooky Path Through the Woods at Acton Burnell Castle, Acton Burnell, England

 

Acton Burnell Castle is a 13th century fortified manor house, located near the village of Acton Burnell, Shropshire, England. Built in 1284 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, friend and advisor to King Edward I, the manor house was substantial enough to accommodate Edward I, his household, soldiers and advisors. It is believed that the first Parliament of England in which the Commons were fully represented was held here in 1283. Today all that remains is St Mary’s Church, also built by Robert Burnell, and the outer shell of the castle. The Lee family must have been important in the village of Acton Burnell, but like a lot of young men of his time, Richard Henry Lee was not the oldest son to inherit, so left England to start fresh in a new country. It’s good to see where you came from so you know where you’re going! Have you traced your family back to lands unknown? What did you experience? I would love to know!  Enjoy!

 

Is Jesus Homeless?

 

Is He Homeless?

Is He Homeless?

 

Is Jesus Homeless?  That question has our small community of 11,000 in a dither. A statue depicting Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench has been placed in front of St Alban’s Episcopal Church, in Davidson, NC.  Jesus is huddled under a blanket with only his pierced feet uncovered. The reaction to the statue was immediate. My friend called me and asked if I had seen the homeless man at the entrance to the neighborhood. “What homeless man?” I went to see for myself. Yes, he looks very real. One woman called the police, thinking it was an actual homeless person. Another neighbor says it creeps him out. Some neighbors think it’s an insulting depiction of the Son of God, and what appears is a hobo curled on a bench. Some people have found comfort sitting on the bench to pray. Others feel the statue reminds us of the marginalized of society. What are your thoughts? As a traveler I have seen great religious statues and artwork all over the world. Many have caused a stir in their day. This statue is no different. It will mean something different to everyone. Today, of all days, I don’t think Jesus is homeless.  HE LIVES!

A Cottage in the Cotswolds: Ebrington

 

Oak Cottage Gate, Ebrington, UK

Oaks Cottage Gate, Ebrington, UK

 

I met a lovely man in a Chipping Campden clothing shop on High Street, who asked me what brought me to the village. When I answered, “my ancestors,” he invited me to his village and church in Ebrington. You see, I am making my way to Kinlet, Shropeshire, UK and St John the Baptist Church, where my ancestors, Sir Humphrey Blount and his wife Elizabeth, are buried. 

Ebrington, UK

Ebrington, UK

 Ebrington, a village of narrow lanes and tiny streets of Cotswold stone cottages and thatched roof cottages, is a just a short walk from Chipping Campden. The Ebrington Arms Inn and Pub, is a great place to eat and quench your thirst before exploring.  The Inn features guest rooms, a restaurant and pub, the hub of village life. The Inn was packed and will not disappoint you.   Walking up a short hill I came to a narrow lane, walked past the Church Steps Cottage and on into the gate of St Eadburgha, named after Eadburgha, the daughter of King Edward the Elder. The tower and south doorway of the church are believed to date from the 13th century, but the church, like most ancient churches, has been enlarged and restored over the years. Stepping inside the church, which is not locked like so many these days, there is  a stone coffin, lepers seat, and other ancient  architectural  details. Be sure to read St Paul’s Admonitions to Wives and Husbands to the left of the font! St Eadburgha’s  Church stands on a commanding position on one of the highest hills in the Cotswolds and the tower can be seen for miles around.  We loved the thatched cottages, stone walls, garden gates and abundant flowers in Ebrington. I discovered that the bird, that I thought was rather still for a long time on one of the cottages, was part of the thatched roof and made of straw! Every cottage had a name, and upon returning home I was determined to name my own, The End Cottage. Not far from Ebrington, is Hidcote Manor, a National Trust Garden, one of the most lovely gardens in the UK.  The day we were here it was closed, bummer, but what a wonderful excuse to come back to the village of Ebrington! Enjoy!

For more information about the Ebrington Arms Inn and Pub see:

http://www.theebringtonarms.co.uk

 

The Church Cat at St Eadburgha's

The Church Cat at St Eadburgha’s

A Cottage in the Cotswolds: Chipping Campden

Walking through the village of Chipping Campden, we come to St James Church, a beautiful golden-yellow colored stone sanctuary set in the meadows. The path to the church is flanked with old tombstones that have been moved here and huge trees that seem to have another tree growing inside them!

Then we walked along the lanes and through the hamlets of straw covered cottages, gardens, and old street lamps. It felt like walking in an old English fairytale! Proud holly hocks were basking in the dappled sunlight everywhere!  After our walk we took a short stroll off High Street to the Eight Bells Inn for dinner. Originally built in the 14th century, to house the stonemasons that built St James Church, it later was used to store the peel of eight bells that were hung in the church tower! Hence the name, Eight Bells! The Inn was rebuilt using most of the original stone and timbers during the 17th century. In front of the Inn are bountiful hanging baskets of flowers to welcome you and usually a fancy car of some kind outside!  Enjoy the day in Chipping Campden!

 

For more information about the Eight Bells Inn see: http://eightbellsinn.co.uk/

Festa del Corpus Domini, May 2013

The Festa del Corpus Domini

The Festa del Corpus Domini

Following the Sound of Drums

Following the Sound of Drums

We are walking quickly, in the direction of the drum beats, following everyone else. Families, children, the young and old all seem to be on a mission; follow the sound of the drums. The late afternoon breeze is filled with the scent of honeysuckle. Mass growth of the plant sweeps the doorways, covers the walls.  You can smell it before you see it.  When I come upon the blooms they are dripping with buzzing bees. There are large nosegays of flowers tied outside the shops and houses on walls and doors; their streamers gently swaying as if they too are in the procession.

The Flowers of Orvieto

The Flowers of Orvieto

DSCN0678Hanging from the rooftop windows are giant flags representing guilds or neighborhoods. Old women, arm in arm,  softly chatter as they slowly make their way up the hill. We feel the festive atmosphere as we make our way to a street corner where a police officer stops us.  We move to the front, in a narrow gap, as SB gets our camera ready.  Between the edges of the towering buildings the narrow street is completely filled with spectators.  The drums are coming!

We are witnessing the festival of the feast of Corpus Christi. It is by happenstance that we picked this week and month to be in Orvieto. I knew nothing of Festa del Corpus Domini before we arrived, but I am so glad we were able to be part of the celebration.

In 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped in Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome.  He was described as a pious priest, but one not quite believing that Christ was actually present in the consecrated host, as Catholics believe.  While celebrating Mass he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started seeping from the host and trickled over his hands onto the altar and the corporal (the napkin looking thingy)  The priest was shocked and at first attempted to hide the blood, but when it did not stop, he interrupted the Mass and went to the neighboring town of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was.  The Pope immediately sent emissaries for an investigation.  Pope Urban ordered the Host and linen cloth be brought to Orvieto bearing the stains of blood. Among the archbishops, cardinals and other church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and with great pomp, the relics were placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the church.  Once a year this scene is re-enacted when hundreds of people from Orvieto and neighboring towns gather in the streets of Orvieto. People are dressed as peasants, soldiers, crusaders, farmers and land owners. There is representation from the guilds, police, firehouses, nurses, missionaries, nuns, civic groups and women’s groups.  The dignitaries follow the priests and cardinals as the relics are carried through the streets to the beat of drums. After the last person of the parade passes, the crowds fill in behind and make the walk to the cathedral where there is more pomp and circumstance before the huge tapestries and relics are carried back into the cathedral for another year.  The parade goes on for over two hours with the celebrants walking over four miles through the narrow lanes of winding Orvieto. The drums echo through the streets and the music and singing from the Cathedral are played over loud speakers throughout the town. At the end of the parade the Mass is also heard over the loud speakers for those not able to get inside the huge cathedral.  This entire scene is repeated the next day as well.  It must take months of planning. I would love to know how many people work on all those costumes. They are so intricate, authentic looking and detailed. Where do you find that many cross-bows, jousting poles and swords? How many bouquets of flowers are made to decorate the streets? How many baskets of bread and grain are carried to the church? It is truly a festival for everyone and one I will remember forever. SB caught on video over four hours of the festivities.  That is a long time to hold a camera up and stay steady as well.  I want to thank him for that. I produced a clip of eight minutes highlighting the event.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

The Girls

The Girls

The Crowds at the Cathedral

The Crowds at the Cathedral

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The Cathedral in Quiet

The Cathedral in Quiet

As we followed the crowds to the cathedral we took a break and ducked into a smaller church along the route.  The entire center aisle of the church was covered in a beautiful design of flower petals. As the congregation of people walked over the petals to the black wrought-iron gate at the front of the church they picked up the petals to carry with them.  I followed suite and then sat in a pew to watch. Behind the black tall gate were rows of nuns.  As the guests recognized a nun there was hand reaching and hand holding through the gate and cries of joy to see each other.  I had the feeling these nuns belonged to a cloistered group and this was a special day to see their relatives. Very young nuns sat on the steps at the sides of the altar behind the gate and called out to young children to come see them.  It was a beautiful and happy scene.

Flower Petal Church

Flower Petal Church

After the Mass at the cathedral we decided to dine at a lovely restaurant complete with the wooden mosaic designs on the walls.  It was around seven in the evening, very early by European standards to dine, so we were one of the first to get a table at Ristorante Maurizio.  I am so glad we did because soon the entire restaurant was filled to capacity.  The lights were dimmed and the candles lit, throwing a soft light on the flax and white colored table cloths and beautiful meal. It was an end to a perfect day.

The Restaurant

The Ristorante Maurizo

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The Rooster Work

The Rooster Work

Ristorante Maurizio: Via Duomo 76, Orvieto, Italy

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea!

The Pirate Lookout and "Pillbox"

The Pirate Lookout and “Pillbox”

We are off today to the resort town of Monterosso al Mare, the only Cinque Terre town built on flat land, with two parts: The New Town (Fegina) to the left as you get off the train and the Old Town (Centro Storico) to the right.  A long pedestrian tunnel connects the old with the new.

The Promenade

The Promenade

We stroll the waterfront promenade and can see all five Cinque Terre towns along the coast. Looking up we see the sixteenth century pirate lookout tower and down below the Nazi “pill box”, a small low concrete bunker where gunners hid in World War II. Heading into the Old Town there are dozens of little shops, restaurants and skinny, winding streets to explore.

The Village Shops

The Village Shops

Outdoor Cafe in Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

Outdoor Cafe in Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

We come to a small jewelry store and a sign outside in the window attracts my attention. It shows a necklace created “step by step” while walking the Cinque Terre.

Step by Step Charms of Cinque Terre

Step by Step Charms of Cinque Terre

There is a shop in each Cinque Terre town offering a bronze or silver charm with the name of that village, to complete a necklace or bracelet. I go inside La Gazza Ladra and the kind woman explains the procedure to collect the charms to me. I purchase a charm that says Monterosso in this shop and receive the charm and a passport, so to speak, that shows where the charms are located in the other four Cinque Terre towns.

The Step by Step Passport

The Step by Step Passport

In every town I must go to that shop, purchase the bronze or silver charm, get the passport stamped and when I am down to the last town I pay one euro for the last charm.  You can “Step by Step” the towns in any order. The necklace is lovely when completed. The shop owner shows the intricate knotting she has done between the five charms and added a beautiful clasp.  I have a small problem though.  I have walked four villages already and leave Cinque Terre tomorrow.  Hmm….. What to do.  I do the only sensible thing really.  I look at SB, who shrugs and says why not? What a guy!!!  I buy the charm, my first charm in bronze, walk out with my charm passport and go have a coffee to determine how much time it will take us to go back to all four of the other Cinque Terre villages and find these shops. It will make a lovely momento of my time in Cinque Terre.

After our coffee we explore Monterosso. We walk to find the Church of St John the Baptist, called the black and white church, with white marble from Carrara ( the famous Leonardo Di Vinci Carrara marble) and dark green marble, which looks black, from Punte Mesco, above the village.  There is a lacy stone rose window above the entrance to the church. The church is beautiful inside and immaculate.

Saint John the Baptist Church

Saint John the Baptist Church

The Sanctuary of St John the Baptist

The Sanctuary of St John the Baptist

The Altar of St John the Baptist

The Altar of St John the Baptist

There is also another church right across the way from St John the Baptist, and it is the most outstanding and different church I have ever been in. It is called the Oratory of the Dead.

Outside the Oratory of the Dead

Outside the Oratory of the Dead

The Oratory of the Dead

The Oratory of the Dead

The Skeleton Motiff

The Skeleton Motif

Skull-and-Crossbones

Skull-and-Crossbones and Hourglass

The Black Jesus in the Oratory of the Dead

The Black Jesus in the Oratory of the Dead

During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church created brotherhoods of good works, called confraternities, to compete with the rising influence of Martin Luther. This church building is the oratory of the black group, a group whose mission was to arrange funerals, and take care of widows and orphans of lost sailors. The confraternity dates from the 16th century and membership is passed from father to son.  It has a beautiful black and white haunted house decor with skeletons and crossbones, a black hand-carved paneled choir stall adorned in skeletons and skeletons among the cherub angels.

The Choir Stalls of the Black Oratory

The Choir Stalls of the Black Oratory

I have never seen anything like it. We explore another church up the hill which has ships hanging from the ceiling and a nautical themed sanctuary.   Enjoying the sunshine we walk back through the pedestrian tunnel to the promenade of the beach to New Town.

The Beach at Monterosso al Mare

The Beach at Monterosso al Mare

This beach front of the village is perfect. There are tiny outdoor cafes, a beach with sand and swimming framed with expensive looking neighborhood villas right up to the sandy shore line.

The Beach Neighborhood

The Beach Neighborhood

People are swimming in the sea, those brave souls, the rest of us are still donning our coats and scarves.  A new stone building reveals architectural additions that start on shore and flow to the sea.  At the end of the building is Il Gigante, a look alike rock formation actually made of reinforced concrete originally constructed to support a dance terrace.

Il Gigante

Il Gigante

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We walk back along the beach and eat at one of the outdoor cafes and finish up with gelato before we head back to the train station to make our stops at Vernazza and Corniglia for the charms. While in Corniglia I also decide to go back to Fanny’s Bazar and buy two fish dishes. I kept thinking I would like two small fish dishes and decided  I could stash them in my carry on so they wouldn’t get broken.

My Fish Dishes

My Fish Dishes

I buy the silver charm in Corniglia since it is my favorite Cinque Terre village. By late afternoon we are in Vernazza and I have gathered three of the needed charms. We see our Aussie friends at an outdoor cafe (A shout out to Fee, Wes and Kathy!) and enjoy their company over drinks before taking the train back to Manarola and our last evening in this magical beautiful town.

For more information about the Cinque Terre, Step-by-Step charms in Montorosso al Mare see: La Gazza Ladra di Alessandra Pampari, Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, Moneterosso al Mare, La Spezia, Italy        Phone:+39 0187 817068

Vernazza, Under the Weather

St Margherita Church, Vernazza Italy

St Margherita Church, Vernazza Italy

It’s raining AGAIN. Back through the tunnel, back to the train, we are going to Vernazza this morning.  Vernazza literally fell into the Ligurian Sea in 2011 due to a huge mudslide in October of that year.  All reports now show progress and things are slowly getting back to business.  Unless you see the flood pictures (the before and after) you can’t appreciate the tough times Vernazza and its 500 citizens have been through. Every shop, restaurant and hotel on the main street had to be dug-out, re-wired, re-plumbed and re-equipped in 2012.  Here are pictures showing what Vernazza was up against.

Vernazza During the Flood

Vernazza During the Flood

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There are three ways to get around Cinque Terre; by foot, by train, or by boat.  This week the paths between the villages are closed for the most part.  There are mudslide warnings.  The sea is not co-operating either, much too rough to pull up and moor. So we are training again.  Our look at Vernazza on this rainy cold day, with it’s natural harbor, overseen by a ruined castle and a stout stone church.

New Main Street in Vernazza

New Main Street in Vernazza

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The Harbor at Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

The Remains of the Castle

The Remains of the Castle

The Hiking Path above Vernazza

The Hiking Path above Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

A group of American women, who married into the community, organized a project which brought relief to their town in the immediate aftermath of the flood and is now an organization to help preserve and foster tourism.  For the latest on the town, the recovery and their activities visit. http://www.savevernazza.com.  Thanks!

Last Night a Roma

Mother Mary Hasselblad of Santa Brigida Convent

Mother Mary Hasselblad of Santa Brigida Convent

How to do you study a nun’s habit without staring?  That is the question.  I am fascinated with the headpiece.  It looks like a halo held in place with a plus sign on top. Or is it an open air battle ready helmet, but made of hard cardboard like the priests collars? The headpiece the nuns wear is fashioned the same as the headpiece that Mother Mary Hasselblad wore. I saw Mother Hasselblad’s picture in the chapel. Their headpiece must determine their association with Santa Brigida.  In the daytime, outside the convent, the nuns walk in pairs carrying an umbrella between them to block the suns rays. In the Rome heat it would be as hot as a furnace under all that get up. I think your head would be sweating from that halo contraption.

The Market Hardware Stand

The Market Hardware Stand

Small Streets for Dining

Small Streets for Dining

Tonight we are walking to Piazza Navona to eat. There are so many people out and about on this Saturday night, but I wonder if it is always busy with tourists? The markets are still flourishing so I look at the hardware stand. I buy little glass jars to put the Italian spices in that I bought at another stall. I also buy a can of coffee to take to the apartment in Montepulciano.   The espresso coffee is four euro for a pound and the date of use is good until 2014.  I’m good to go. We could look for hours here there is so much to see, but we move on after our purchases. We get to the only street corner that so far has a stoplight, although stoplights here are only a suggestion.  Nobody stops. There is a police woman here tonight and I think that is odd.  The polizia wear big thick white gun holsters that cross over the body like you would wear a purse you didn’t want stolen. They don’t holster around the waist. Suddenly we hear sirens.  Lots of sirens.  Two motorcycle police whiz by like they are going to a fire.  The police woman jumps into action preventing anyone from crossing the street. The man in front of me says, “Holy Papa, Holy Papa.”  And sure enough here comes a black Mercedes and in the back seat is a smiling and waving Pope Francis.  Everyone on the street is waving and shouting.  It was quite the moment.  How lucky we were to be at that place at that time! After the Holy Papa passes by the police woman vanishes into the crowd as more motorcycles zip past.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

In the Piazza Navona tonight there are artists of all kinds. Some painting absentmindedly, with their palettes of beautiful colors, while others watch. There is also a large crowd gathered around a man in a straight jacket and chains. It is like being at the circus. Young good looking men are selling rubber band rockets that shoot high into the sky, then flash bright colors, before falling back to the ground where they run to pick them up and do it all over again. In the background the huge fountain provides a backdrop for the photo takers. We sit at the oldest restaurant on the piazza dating 1836.  The food is so-so, but the people watching is fantastic. We return to the Convent again around midnight and I wonder what is in store for us tonight.

The Angel on the Corner

The Angel on the Corner

We are not disappointed.  We still hear people walking and talking as they return to their  homes, but around 3am there is a blood curdling scream of “aiutarmi, aiutarmi!” Help me!  Help me! I also hear the voices of people trying to quiet the man down.  My first thought is he is on drugs.  He gets quiet only to start up minutes later, “aiutarmi, aiutarmi!”  I then hear the doors of Santa Brigida open and the soft voice of a nun trying to comfort him. Everything gets quiet then and I finally fall asleep. In the morning after breakfast with the priests, the nun calls a cab for us to take to the train station. A very old man, speaking only Italian, pulls up and can hardly lift our suitcases to the trunk. We are off to Montepulciano!

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